A conversation with Isaac Blacksin

Monday, January 24, 2022

12 p.m. 1 p.m. PT


Postdoc Isaac Blacksin will present research titled: “Liberation as siege: An inquiry into war reportage from the Battle for Mosul.” Lauded journalism from the 2016-17 battle for Mosul, Iraq revealed gross underestimates of US-caused civilian harm from anti-Islamic State operations, exemplifying journalism’s ability to “speak truth to power.” Yet in questioning official death tallies, journalists failed to challenge the rationale offered for this harm: an accidental exception or necessary excess to justified violence. By focusing on individuated and corporeal suffering, by categorizing violence as lawful or extreme, and by attending to immanent violence – rather than the structures perpetuating violence – as the central problem of war, journalism emphasized the moral dynamics of militarism while mystifying its political logic. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in and around Mosul during the battle, this talk assesses war reportage in its contemporary humanitarian mode. Isaac Blacksin tracks a transformation in the journalistic representation of war from the effects of policy on populations to the effects of violence on the innocent. 

Isaac Blacksin is a postdoctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows and USC Annenberg. His research concerns the practice and poetics of mass media, militarism in the Middle East, and the politics of representation. An ethnographer of war reportage, Blacksin has conducted fieldwork with journalists in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. His work appears in boundary 2, Media, War & Conflict, Applied Journalism and Media Studies, Kyoto Journal, and Viewpoint Magazine.